The car choked. Sputtering. Dying. The engine gave one last shuddering jolt as I veered it on to the side of the road, then it stopped. Dead. I slammed my hands on the wheel, Truffle whimpered and nuzzled his head against my side (until further information around it's behaviour and gender can be gathered, I'm going to assume that it's a male). I gave him a little pat and ruffled his ears before climbing out of the car and popping the hood to inspect my recently deceased engine. Smoke billowed out, thick and dark, the smell of petrol choking me. I sputtered, spitting out bits of grit. Oil and other fluids were pouring out of different pipes, parts of the engine had been cracked and split. I slammed the hood shut, sighing in exasperation. I walked around to the back and pulled my phone out of my bag in the boot. I quickly dialled my parent's number because I was closer to them than anything in town. But all I could get was a voice telling me I had no reception. I looked down at my phone. The previously full bars were now reading empty. I tried the emergency number my phone company promised would reach anywhere not matter my reception. My phone buzzed at me as the screen blinked to black. No. Battery.
I groaned. Both daylight and any signs of civilisation were hours away. Truffle appeared at my feet whining. I closed the boot and picked him up, cuddling him close. My little tiger-wolf hybrid, the only company and comfort I had for a while. He was quite affectionate and for that I was glad. His cheerful manner also cheered me up a little. I decided our best plan of attack was to wait in the car, where it was warm and safe, then in the morning I could walk back to m parent's place and call a tow company.
I shivered, remembering the rumours from my childhood about animal attacks and people going missing around this area. I'd be safe in the car. I hurried to open the door. But it was locked. I panicked. Jiggling the handle. Truffle snivelled as a deep, low, growl came from something on the other side of the car. I shook the car door hard but it was locked and my keys were still in the ignition. Another growl came from the shadows. Truffle emitted something between a howl and a snuffle.
I took a step back. Clutching Truffle tightly. I turned and ran to the other side of the road, praying that whatever growled wouldn't follow. But it did. I started running and it gave chase. I glanced over my shoulder. it ran on all fours, yellow eyes glowing hungrily. Claws ripping up dirt as it chased me into the forest that lined the road's edge. I ran for 20 metres until I hit a gate. This was never here when I was growing up. It stretched to the sky, vines encasing the wrought iron design. I pushed against it. Thankfully the gate fell open, revealing an overgrown path. I closed the gate behind me and continued to dash down the path, no idea where it would take me.
I held Truffle, he watched over my shoulder, his whimpers urging me to run faster. I now wished my team had kept him full size so he could run by himself and keep up or fight the creature off when it caught up. I knew it was going to catch me. I was too slow. No matter how hard i pushed myself. It's warm, wet breath was close behind me. It's claws reaching for my ankles, ready to drag its teeth through my flesh.
I sprinted up the path. It turned out to be some sort of driveway, leading to an over the top Victorian-era manor. It stretched high to the clouds, moonlight reflecting off its many windows, vines twisting around it's columns. Truffle's claws dug into my arms. The creature was close. I saw stairs through the overgrowth around the manor's gardens, leading to a wooden double door, it appeared to be slightly open. I crossed the courtyard, dashing around the statues and weeds. I reached the stairs, launching myself up them and straight to the door. Daggers pierced my sides, I wheezed trying to get air in my lungs. My hand grasped the one of the door knobs on the double door and twisted. Claws dug into the back of my right leg, I screamed in agony. "You're marked now!" Those three words echoed through my head. I expected to be dragged backwards, but the creature turned and ran off into the night. Several howls echoed through the night air. I wrenched open the door and bolted inside, slamming it fiercely behind me. Truffle whimpered again. I shushed him.
I leant against the wall, sighing. Good girl Claire, I thought, run away from a creature straight into some stranger's manor, quite possibly haunted or at least condemned. I looked around the room, it was most likely both. Pictures hung on the wall, their paint peeling, rotting. They looked like a rotting corpse. Bits falling off, revealing a skeleton underneath. I moved forward, curious about the peculiar art work. And indeed, pieces of painted skin were rotting off the picture to reveal a painted corpse underneath. I stepped back in disgust. Further down were more normal portraits that simply appeared worn from age rather than actually decaying.
The last portrait was of a modern-looking man, a piercing in his brow, tattoos on his neck, ruffled black hair and scared green eyes. He's the sort of man any girl would dream of, the only part out of place was his expression. Complete horror filled his features. Eyes wide with terror, mouth agape with fear, frozen in an un-ending scream. No longer able to look, I continued to search the room for some sort of telephone device. But all that I came up with was sheets. Lots of dusty white sheets covering antique pieces of furniture scattered across the room. They were in no particular order other than that they were all over a century old and each in an alternate state of being eaten by moths and other bugs.
I walked back to where the door had been, planning to wait there until sunrise. The door was gone. Damn it! I turned on in a circle, eyes searching frantically for the door. Truffle, who had been silent all this time now leaped out of my arms and ran across the room to another door I hadn't seen before. Somewhere in the distance a clock chimes midnight. I follow Truffle to the door, stepping cautiously. Before me is a door, grand in its design. My eyes trace the delicate curves of the wood, not daring to touch it. Truffle nudges my leg, as if urging me to open it. As if in a trance, I place my hand around the carved brass knob. Warm, wet breath tickles my palm. I shiver. It reminds me of when Truffle nuzzles my face. Except I can feel sharp teeth biting in to my hand. I try to let go but my hand is stuck. I twist the knob, hoping that will free my hand, and it does. I push the door, opening it and stepping out into an expansive hallway. Chandeliers dangle precariously from the ceiling, the walls stretching high up. The hall stretches out before me, doors lining each wall, all with its own individual design, but all made of aged oak wood. I close the door behind me, picking up Truffle I head for the stairs.
A figure appeared, blocking my path. It seems to be a person but no normal person is able to appear out of thin air whenever they choose. The figure bows low to the ground. I look at him quizzically, as a scientist I'm not very impressed by magic, more peculiar things happen in my presence each day that can't be explained using tricks of the light and mirrors. I looked closely at his face and gasped, it was the man from the picture. Truffle moved towards him, sniffing the air around his feet, then he grumbled, leaping up at the stranger. I reached out to stop him but then he fell straight through the stranger. I gasped. "What the...?"
"Uh whoops... Sorry, should probably let you know that I'm a ghost. I was trapped in the picture because I died in this place." He looked around the hallway warily, "Now I'm here as a ghost tour guide basically, to help you."
"Help me with what?" I demanded. He stretched an arm behind his head, I noticed that I could see through him slightly, like looking through the surface of a lake, I could see shapes of what was underneath the water, but I couldn't quite make out exactly what it was.
"I'll say this first, it's not my fault that you're here, this... mansion..." He looked around the hall, all the doors seemed to grow, as if trying to intimidate us, driven by some unseen force, "it's cursed. Every couple of years it gets hungry. Hungry for another game. Every couple of years it takes another victim, drawing them in or chasing them through its doors." The man stared at me, but didn't seem to be paying any attention to me, his mind was somewhere else. "I tried to stop it when it trapped me. Tried so hard to stop it from playing it's game."
"It?" I questioned, he spoke of the mansion as if it was a person. He nodded solemnly.
"The mansion traps you and plays with you. If you can't finish it's game before time runs out, it takes your soul and traps you in a painting. Just like me. If you can't beat the curse, then you'll be stuck here to until it claims its next victim... When that happens it will be your job to help them..."
"Help them with what? What do I have to do? How do I escape?" I asked the questions so fast, barely stopping for a breath. I took a step forward, quite infuriated and confused. What the hell was this place, it's going to make me late to the laboratory tomorrow.
"Shall I start at the beginning?" The stranger asked rolling his eyes at me. I scowled at him, then nodded, needing to know what was going on so I could leave as soon as possible. "A few hundred years ago this mansion was built, its owners we very wealthy and immensely greed. They cheated and lied their way to the top, using deceit and murder to make their mark on the world. As the years passed they noticed people's hatred for them. So they tried bribery, in an attempt to buy the people's trust and friendship, only to have their true nature revealed once more when they used and discarded those they had bought." My eyes widened, I couldn't ever imagine people being so cruel. "It gets worse" said the stranger, as though he knew what I was thinking, maybe he did, this place was creepy, I stepped back to the door behind me, Truffle whining at my feet. "They became known as the Interfeci, the Latin word for murderer, and the name has stuck ever since. Each new generation became more despised, the Mansion passed down to each new child once the parents passed. All of them introducing more murder, deception, blood and death." He took a deep breath, shivering. Did ghosts shiver? A smile twinged at the corner of his semi-transparent mouth. "The Mansion began to come alive, all the souls of the dead bringing it to life. It began to grow hungry. Encouraging its inhabitants to kill. To commit sin and fee the Mansion's ravenous hunger for death. Until the last owner passed away almost one hundred years ago, leaving no heirs. Since then the Mansion has had to fend for itself, drawing in its own victims." A ticking sound echoed through the mansion, it hadn't been there before. It sounded like a beating heart. Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock. "Before the last heir died, he commissioned a clock be made for the mansion. This latest heir had not been as bad as the rest, born disabled, unable to commit murder, all he could do was make other's lives miserable through deceit and corruption. But the man that made the clock... He remembered how it used to be, what the man's ancestors had been like. As he was making the clock, the hate filled him, centuries of anger, fear, hatred and memories of death were poured into the clock. Once in the Mansion, the clock became its heart. Always ticking. Over the past century, the mansion has decayed, growing old, neglected. But still able to feed. The grounds have become overrun by the flora, vines climbing up the walls, shadows devouring all light except one. The moonlight. The only relief of the eternal darkness."
"What happened to the heir?"
"No one knows. After the clock was placed in the mansion, he was never seen again. Now the mansion is its own being. The clock its beating heart. Keeping the Moonlight Mansion alive."
"But how do I get out? I need to get out!"It was a lovely story, but I desperately needed to escape. The stranger smiled slyly.
"You have to find and destroy the clock."
"Not quite. You have twelve hours. If you don't find the clock in that time, the Mansion steals your soul and you will be trapped in a painting like me, left to rot until the Mansion chooses its next victim."
"Right, twelve hours to find a clock? Easy. Tell me what it looks like, I'll follow the ticking and done"
"Wrong. Every hour the clock will chime. And you will be dragged into unconsciousness. No control over it at all. You will be consumed by the darkness."
"And? How long does this darkness last?" I was trying to sound brave, confident and not completely afraid. I think it was working. The corner of his mouth twinged in a smile again.
"While you're unconscious, the mansion will show you a story. It may be part of its past, or it may be something completely strange and unusual. There is no way for you to interfere with what happens, you're only there to watch and participate. Locate the clock. Destroy the clock. We are depending on you Claire." Then the stranger disappeared.
"Wait? What? Come back!!" I spun in a circle, shouting after him. But he was gone. "What does it look like? Where do I find it? How do you know my name!?"I sighed in frustration.
Truffle bounded down the hall, emitting a noise that sounded like a hiss and a growl, I called after him but he kept running to the next door. "Follow him!" I heard the stranger's voice but I couldn't see him, "Go! Before your first hour is up!"I looked down the hallway, at the door Truffle had stopped at, he was now jumping up at it, barking in his weird way. I glanced behind me, the door was definitely locked, the handle had disappeared. I shivered and ran after Truffle.
Each door was about ten metres apart, the hallway about sixty metres long and five metres wide, with doors lining both sides, almost six of them, the one I entered into the hallway through was right on the end, the stairs opposite it. The chandelier hung from the ceiling, illumination the hallway, its blood red carpet running the full length all the way up the stairs and disappearing out of sight, it appeared frayed and worn in parts as I walked across it, stumbling towards Truffle.
I stopped and turned at the door, Truffle pawed at it desperately. Leaping at the handle as it glared down at him, mouth drawn back in a menacing growl, baring it's teeth. I fell back. The wolf on the handle was alive. Hands pushed me forward, I steadied myself and reached for the door handle. It whined and then nuzzled my hand, "hello Claire, I've been waiting for you." the voice reverberated through my head, like a tender caress, I could feel the wolf's fur under my touch, even though it appeared as a simple brass handle.
"Open the door Claire!" The stranger's voice echoed around the hallway and through my mind, I spun, searching for him, but he wasn't there. I frowned shaking my head. Truffle bumped his head against my leg as I twisted the handle. The door swung open, and something shoved me inside the room. I stumble, tripping over the carpet, I throw my hands out to steady myself. I grasp something cold and hard, like steel. I look up, blinking. Moonlight filters in to the room through a large window on the other side of the room. Curtains blow in the breeze, decorated with sewn pictures of the sky that was visible outside. The moon large and proud, a ghostly ceramic orb, not a cloud in sight. The room was completely illuminated by its beautiful, mysterious light, shadows creeping through its path, lending the room a twisted ambience.
I stepped further into the room. A bed lay on one side, a set of drawers at the end of it. The other side was taken up by weird-looking metal objects. Some looked like telescopes or microscopes, others might have been dioramas, representations of the planets far off in the night sky. It was very obviously the bedroom of a young boy. I whipped around as the door slammed shut, Truffle yelping as he was pushed inside to avoid being hit by it. Beside the door was a painting of a young girl, her face was framed by dirty blonde hair, bright green eyes were the main feature of her young face, wide and scared though they were. Her face was scarred with scratches and black smudges, I couldn't tell if they were dirt or bruises.
Somewhere in the distance a clock chimed the hour.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
My body felt dense. Heavy and tired. I could feel myself falling but I was immobilised, unable to stop myself as I hit the ground. I hit the ground. Somewhere to my left Truffle whimpered. I lay in the moonlight, gazing up at the moon, paralysed. Blackness drifted over my eyes. I lost my vision as I fell into unconsciousness. There was no way to fight it. It encompassed me completely as I drifted away...